Member Reviews

<i>Great Circle</i> is my third Maggie Shipstead novel. My first was <i>Astonish Me</i>, which I loved; <i>Seating Arrangements</i> did nothing for me; <i>Great Circle</i> landed somewhere in between. The concept is fun: movie star Hadley is tasked with playing Marian Graves, a mid-20th century pilot in a film about her life. The story moves back and forth between present-day Hadley and Marian. First, this book is long. And slow. It's a tough combination. The first 50 pages or so were challenging for me to follow: while each chapter is dated, time skips by rapidly and I had a hard time keeping up with who was who and what was happening. Then, I'd get into the story--either Marian's or Hadley's--and the focus would switch back to the other. There didn't seem to be a great balance in how much time was spent on each story. And then, on top of that, there were detours - "incomplete histories" of historical figures, areas, or other topics that Shipstead chose to elaborate on. While they were interesting, I was so eager to move on with the story that they frustrated me.

And yet... there's beauty in <i>Great Circle</i> Marian is a bad-ass chick. She makes some missteps, but she is determined to fly and makes it happen. It's incredible to hear about her journey as a female pilot in a time when females rarely worked outside the home, let alone flew airplanes.

Hadley is strong and stubborn in different ways. Her character teeters on vapid, but I enjoyed her story as much, if not more, than Marian's (I wanted more time with her almost always).

All I could think as I read is, "what a slog." And then, I'd keep reading, and then I'd debate quitting, and then I'd keep reading. I'm sure some readers will love it and other will not be able to make it to the end. Since I read an uncorrected proof, I'd be curious to see if the final version is pared down and more readable. Thank you to the author and publisher for the NetGalley.

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I didn’t finish Great Circle even though I really hoped to learn about a young female aviator. I didn’t expect to read about bad treatment of women, incest and many sexual encounters. I think that there should be some mention of this in the description of the book. Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC. This is my honest opinion.

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Thank you for the wonderful chance to read and review Great Circle from Maggie Shipstead. I have read her earlier books, which I enjoyed, but this... was superior and epic. I admit that the publisher/editor note at the beginning of the ARC about it being a truly excellent book was intimidating but also exciting as I am not sure I have seen a note like that before.

Though at times I do not like multiple perspective, multiple timeline stories, this one works so well because it is about the blending of the stories, of showing thoughtful parallels and yet also individual stories that were complete and satisfying. I am a fan of literary fiction and epic stories and this book just nails all of the best parts of literary fiction and epic journeys in books.

I love stories that focus on blurring, even fictional blurring, of lines between reality and arts (e.g., movies) and that focus on strong, complex, and confident women. I also loved that the story included a sibling focus in the earlier storyline with Marian and her brother James as I find sibling relationships filled with important nuance and complexity that I connect with. The connections that Hadley explored in her storyline, and how it brought development and growth, it felt so intense and vivid at times.

I saw another review that said rare is a book that makes you want to both keep reading and yet stop to take a breath and to also look up details and information to explore the book more in depth. I have to agree, this book kept unfolding and developing and expanding in good ways and the story is worth staying with, even for those who do not like longer books or multiple timelines. I also found that the focus on circles, closing them, expanding them, completing them and how this theme was drawn out to be rewarding, philosophical, and though provoking.

There was care and love for characters and their stories, this stood out to me and I appreciate reading a book in which the author seems to know and want to share her characters, and their voices, with the reader. This, and excellent detail and literary prose, stood out for me and make me enthused to share this book with others when it comes out. This is a book I will reread again soon as I want to go back with this appreciation in hand, talk about it with others, and share it in book club.

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I was really excited about this book, but unfortunately I struggled to even get through it. The author used a bunch of fancy obscure words, to the point that if I wasn't reading a digital copy that made it easy to look up words, I would have abandoned this book quickly. The two main characters weren't even remotely likeable. The book was also far too long and lacked focus, with random rabbit trails that had nothing to do with the story. Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for early access to this book.

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I picked up "Great Circle" thinking it was about a woman who loved flying above all else. What I instead found was a true epic, spanning a lifetime (and then some) with blindingly vivid characters.

Starting out, I needed a few chapters to figure out the pacing and voice. There are two perspectives/timelines: one in 3rd person, following Marian in the first half of the century; the other in first person, voiced by the actress chosen to play Marian in a movie circa 2015. The ways her story intertwines with Marian's grows more fascinating as the story progresses. There are plenty of moments I think I can see what's coming in the storyline, but then Shipstead took a left turn and surprised me in delightful, wrenching, just-right ways.

Shipstead is an artist with her words. Her attention to detail, the connections between characters and places and time, is stunning. In other books I tend to zone out when reading descriptive paragraphs, but I was thirsty for these. I wouldn't call "Great Circle" tragic, nor would I call it a fairy tale; rather, it's beautiful in its ups and downs, and it will make you FEEL. This was one of my favorite reads of 2021, and I highly recommend it.

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Great Circle is an epic, grand adventure of the ambitious and intrepid Marian Graves and the understanding and interpretation of her life and what she was searching for by the ambivalent and irrepressible actress Hadley Baxter in current times. It's a beautiful ode to the joy of flying and the planes that took people up in the sky. It's a gentle examination of the fluidity of who we are and our relationships to other people. The earlier part of the historical storyline actually starts with Marian's father before building into her life in Montana as a young girl, Alaska as a young woman and England during World War II as a fully-formed woman. In some regards the book never seems to drive too hard at picking things apart for its characters, slowly letting realization occur for both the character and the reader. This is a story that for me, was best read slowly, letting me absorb both beautiful writing and the depths that it conveys without ever coming across as pretentious. If you're looking for a throwaway dual timeline featuring plucky women, well IT is a dual timeline, and IT definitely features plucky women, but this is meant to be contemplated and absorbed. A beautiful, thoughtful book.

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This is the story of Marian Graves, an girl who became enamored with flyingin in the early half of the twentieth century, and Hadley baxter, the actress playing Graves in a movie about her attempted flight round the world. Both women were orphaned and sent to live with an uncle. It took me a while to get into this book, but ultimately I enjoyed it. I found Marian's story more compelling than Hadley's.

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Thank you for the ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. To begin, I thought the writing a really good. The story was also good, but very very long! I have a hard time with longer stories because I just get anxious to be done with it, no matter how good it is. For such a long story, I wish it would have grabbed me a little fasted in the beginning. I felt it started extremely slowly. Though the story was long, I am happy it was a e-read because a hardcover or paperback would be very intimidating for me I think. Regardless, this was a good story. I will give it 3.5 stars, rounded up to 4!

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I have mixed feelings about this book. I connected more with Marian’s storyline than with Hadley’s. For me, the novel was too long and drawn out. However, I did enjoy reading about the sibling relationship between Marian and her twin brother, Jamie.

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I didn't realize this was over 600 pages! I'm going to save it for when I have the time to devote to it. Sorry!

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Thank you @netgalley and @aaknopf for the opportunity to read this #advancedreaderscopy. A note from the publisher at the beginning stated this is the best novel that they have read recently and the hype turned out to be true. Covering a time span from #WWI to 2015, this book is lengthy and has a lot of characters to follow. Twins Marian and Jamie, who survived a ship sinking as infants, are the main characters and their stories of growing up during the 1920s, Depression, and #WWII are fascinating and make it hard to put the book down. The modern timeline follows Hollywood starlet Hadley as she prepares to take on the character of Marian in a career-changing role. This ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ book will be released in #may2021 and needs to be added to your #readinglist. It takes a couple of chapters to get the flow of the story, but then it was a race to the end. I often had to put the book down and savor the characters before the story was done. The historic and modern love stories @shipstead created are fascinating and completely realistic. I hope the book is made into a miniseries because I want to live with these characters again.

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In what I consider to be an epic saga, Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead is worth the time it took to read. It is beautifully written, with engaging characters and descriptions that completely draw you in to the story. Marion Graves has lived quite a life and we get to see all of it. This book will stay with you after you are done. Definitely recommend.
Thank you NetGalley for the Arc.

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Who has time for husbands and children when you’re busy trying to become a successful pilot during the Prohibition-era? Marian Graves sure doesn’t, but that doesn’t stop some rich, brothel-visiting, bootlegging son of a b*tch from trying to change her mind. Fast forward 100 years, Marian has disappeared after attempting a risky flight, and A-list actress Hadley Baxter is trying to rehabilitate her tarnished image by playing the role of the adventure seeking pilot. Unlike the fictional novel that Hadley’s movie is based on, Great Circle is beautifully written and will have readers falling in love with the supporting characters just as much as the main ones. But commitment-phobes beware! This 600-page epic requires time, focus, and attention to detail. So find yourself a seat with plenty of leg room, a neck pillow for the naps you’ll need between chapters, and prepare for take-off. Estimated time of arrival: 14 hours after opening.

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“There should be an Antiques Roadshow for memories, and I would sit behind a desk and explain that while your memory might be lovely and have tremendous sentimental value, it was worth nothing to anyone but you.”

Great Circle tells the epic story of aviatrix Marian Graves who was determined to be the first pilot to fly around the globe longitudinally, and Hadley Baxter, the actress who will play her sixty years later. Both women were orphaned young, raised by neglectful uncles, and Hadley immediately feels a connection to Marian’s life.

It’s hard to sum up how much Great Circle takes on since it literally covers the globe and is a multigenerational novel of sacrifice, fulfillment, love and loss. The layering of stories and time periods was spiraling and always came back to center and it was gorgeously executed. Shipstead’s writing took me inside each character and their interest in a subject and made it vividly real and fascinating. I loved her straightforward writing style in telling the story.

I have 200 page books that I have been reading for months, and this 600 page book was finished in a weekend. I couldn’t get enough of the story and now I can’t get these characters out of my head.


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In Great Circle: A Novel, author Maggie Shipstead takes us into the epic life of a female aviator, Marian Graves. Rescued from a sinking ship as an infant with her twin brother, Jamie, Marian grows up in Montana, raised by an uncle who had little interest in the two children. While still a teenager, Marian discovers a passion for planes…and will do anything to learn to fly.

Several decades after Marian disappears on a “great circle” flight to both the north and south pole, actress Hadley Baxter is playing Marian in a movie. Hadley is a successful but disgraced actress who takes the role initially to try to redeem herself in Hollywood. The story weaves back and forth between Marian’s life and Hadley’s.

Two things really stood out to me when reading this novel. First, it’s too easy to misinterpret or minimize the complexity of someone’s life when observing it from the outside. After Marian’s disappearance, writers tried to fill in the blanks, creating myth and misinformation. Hadley has to deal with tabloid culture.

Second, I was struck by how a life can be altered by one small action or shift. If Marian hadn’t been rescued as a newborn, she would never have existed. It was as if every aspect of her life led her to flight, but one less twist or turn would have given her a very different experience.

Shipstead’s command of research and her ability to weave it into a story are astounding. Readers will learn a lot about the history of flight and the role of women that is often under-reported.

Initially I had some trouble getting into the story. There’s a fair amount of set-up that may come across as random. Hang in there. It will all make sense in the end. I also struggled a bit with Marian’s precociousness, but I consider this a minor criticism, as the era of The Great Depression forced people to grow up fast.

I would highly recommend Great Circle to anyone who loves stories about tenacious women. There’s a lot here about families, friendships, and love here, too.

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I was provided with an ARC by NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. At the beginning of the book I was really enjoying it, until Hadley got involved (two timelines) and then I started getting confused, which led to boredom. Rather than give up, I read a few other reviews. These reviewers all had a similar experience and without an exception, all the reviewers had recommended to continue reading. I am so glad I did. I had felt invested in the character of Maggie, her twin James and friend Caleb from the onset. Unfortunately I never cared for Hadley who spent a lot of her time (as a famous actress) stoned and making bad choices. As I continued on with the book, I came to see that Hadley was an important part of the story and it all came together. Yes, this is a long book, but I guarantee that if you stick with it you won’t be able to stop. In a way this could be considered a mystery that you won’t want t9 leave unsolved. Four stars because of the slow beginning, but approximately the last 500 pages are 5 star worthy.

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I received an advanced copy of this book through NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review. I have read Shipstead's earlier books so I was happy for the opportunity to review her new work. I did not realize it was 600 pages! There was certainly some editing that could have made this book flow better with plot but character development and prose was very well done.
The story reflects two time periods, the 1920's with Marian who learned to be a pilot at a time when women were expected to fill more traditional roles with marriage and motherhood, Hadley is an actress cast to play Marian and find out what happened when her plane went down over Antarctica.

I really wanted to like this book and spent a big chunk of a weekend reading. I think if it were 150 pages shorter it might attract more of an audience.

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4.5 stars. A gorgeous, sweeping epic novel. On the surface, a story of two women with similar backgrounds (dead parents, raised by single uncles), but on a deeper level it's about how life comes full circle, but not always in the way you expect. There are infinite variations and possible outcomes.

Quote from book: "If you were to put a blade through any sphere and divide it into two perfect halves, the circumference of the cut side of each half would be a great circle: that is, the largest circle that can be drawn on a sphere. . . .Points directly opposite each other, like the North and South Poles, are intersected by an infinite number of great circles."

Not just the story of Marian, an intrepid female aviator who desires to fly around the world on a longitudinal great circle that will take her over the North and South Poles, but also of Hadley, and actress in the present time hired to portray Marian in the biopic movie. Those who orbit around these women, especially in Marian's time line, are fascinating characters in their own right.

"Spanning Prohibition-era Montana, the Pacific Northwest, Alaska, New Zealand, wartime London, and modern-day Los Angeles, Great Circle tells the unforgettable story of a daredevil female aviator determined to chart her own course in life, at any cost.

After being rescued as infants from a sinking ocean liner in 1914, Marian and Jamie Graves are raised by their dissolute uncle in Missoula, Montana. There--after encountering a pair of barnstorming pilots passing through town in beat-up biplanes--Marian commences her lifelong love affair with flight. At fourteen she drops out of school and finds an unexpected and dangerous patron in a wealthy bootlegger who provides a plane and subsidizes her lessons, an arrangement that will haunt her for the rest of her life, even as it allows her to fulfill her destiny: circumnavigating the globe by flying over the North and South Poles.

A century later, Hadley Baxter is cast to play Marian in a film that centers on Marian's disappearance in Antarctica. Vibrant, canny, disgusted with the claustrophobia of Hollywood, Hadley is eager to redefine herself after a romantic film franchise has imprisoned her in the grip of cult celebrity. Her immersion into the character of Marian unfolds, thrillingly, alongside Marian's own story, as the two women's fates--and their hunger for self-determination in vastly different geographies and times--collide."

Thanks to NetGalley for the free ARC in exchange for my honest review. All opinions expressed herein are mine.

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One of the most impressive achievements of Great Circle is the massive leap it takes from her
novel debut, Seating Arrangements, nine years ago to now. Where Seating Arrangements would
play it safe, conservative and expected with its plotting and characters (going so far as to rename
its island location for some inexplicable reason—perhaps as not to offend or be committed to the
real world location it is aping), Great Circle is daring and aims at something greater than the sum
of the parts. Now, not all of these decisions pay off, but the prose is lush and exceptionally
accomplished. Great Circle follows Marian Graves from childhood to an attempt to become the
first person to fly around the world in the titular great circle, as well as people in Marian’s orbit
and the troubled young star portraying her in a biopic, 70 years later.

This is a long book. Across the 600-some odd pages there are shades of Column
McCann’s Transatlantic, Nathanael West’s The Day of the Locust and, on a modern level,
Taylor Jenkins Reid’s Malibu Rising and Ella Berman’s The Comeback. There is something
admirable about the desire to write a “big novel”, but what the result here is two halves a story
that only moderately affect each other. There is the first “half” of Marian’s life in Missoula,
Montana and Alaska where she lives victim to an abusive husband and the second “half” where
she becomes a taxi pilot in World War II. Just one character, besides Marian, bridges the chasm
of these two halves. Part of Marian’s quest is a quest for re-invention, and for solitude, so it’s not
entirely surprising that the beginning and end of the book have little to do with each other, but
for the sake of storytelling, by the time we arrive in England to ferry planes, it feels as though the
first 300 pages have been wasted, if this is where the story needs to go (and the reverse of that,
the first half is diminished by the focus on a the war in the second). Unlike some books that rely
on initial chapters to fully understand the significance of the finale, Great Circles two distinct
time periods exist independently of one another. (**I’m going to take this moment to preempt
the argument that Marian’s relationship with her husband is integral to her later life journey. I
disagree and if you do think it necessary, you’re not giving Marian enough credit and at the end
of the day it’s just my opinion.**)

On top of that, we cut back and forth to modern day Los Angeles. It would be easy for an
author to make a real mess of this, but Shipstead doesn’t do that at all. Hadley’s character is
completely informed by Marian’s life and rounds out what would otherwise be a pretty flat
plotline. The subtlety here is astounding, dropping just enough breadcrumbs for the reader to
follow the trail from Marian to Hadley, but refusing to beat the audience over the head with the
symbolism. However, it’s unclear how much these Los Angeles passages add to the concept of
“literature”, as it were. Hadley, despite moments of exceptionalism, is an author’s interpretation
of a Jennifer Lawrence or Kristen Stewart type-starlet and joins the pantheon of writers trying to
grasp at the interior monologue of celebrity (none of which can possibly be accurate). Unlike the
wonderfully researched flying sequences, Hadley’s interviews with feature reporters come across
as wish fulfillment of “cool girl” vibes. Add in the elderly gay producer who lives next door and
the hipster producer turned maybe-love-interest and there’s nothing we haven’t seen a dozen
times in the last five years. (**That being said, I’m a sucker for any book about Los Angeles and
this plotline was the reason I picked up the ARC in the first place.**)

I loved this book when I started but each time I picked it up to continue reading I liked it
a little less. Maybe it was a promise from the author in the impressionistic opening chapter that
went unfulfilled. Maybe it was too much of one character that didn’t personally interest me
(Barclay). Maybe it was the sheer length of this novel that caught me by surprise and frustrated
me as noticed my Kindle was only 50% of the way trough. When describing a story as “too
long”, I think it’s a worthwhile exercise to go through and highlight which sections could be
dropped; inevitably, if you decide there’s nothing that can be left out then you’ve proven
yourself wrong and shows the strength of the story. As the majority of this review focuses on,
there are three sections; the through line of Marian to Hadley interests me far more than the
through line of young Marian to old Marian, but which to excise? Old or young? Pull on one
thread and the rest start to unravel. You can’t take out Marian learning to fly as a teenager, but
you can’t take out the events as an adult that leads her to the decision to fly in a great circle. I’m
not sure if there is a way to tell this story succinctly, in part, because the strength of the book is
the detailed prose, but the story would have been benefited by tightening up Marian’s teenage
years and her time spent in Alaska.

So what’s the verdict? Shipstead took a huge swing with Great Circle (understandable
why it’s been seven years since publication of her last novel) and made enough contact to justify
the cover price—but not enough to justify the word count.

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As a reader I am inspired by stories that set my imagination afire, bring chills to my spine, tears to my eyes, and comfort in this baffling world. Great Circle is that kind of novel.

As a genealogist, I am fascinated by the hidden stories of my ancestors. I can never learn enough to fully flesh out the details of their lives. What it was like to leave their homes and reinvent themselves in a new land? What lead to the seduction that left them unmarried mothers? How did they face the devastation of a child drowning in the canal they had to pass every day? I only know that they survived, for a while, and then they died, taking their secrets with them. As someday, I will, too.

Life throws us into despair--all of us. We give in and give up, or we resist and struggle to the surface of the water, take another breath, and reinvent our life in the after-world. Sometimes there is freedom in reinvention. Sometimes it saves us.

Great Circle is one of those massive reads that sweep us across time and history, a long journey into character's entire lives. They are orphaned or neglected and unprotected by unreliable adults, and make their way as best they can. They lose loves and are loved by monsters. Dreams are fragile and come with a cost. Again and again, they must reinvent a life with a new name or in a new place or with a new love or the end of a love.

First, there is the story of orphans Marian Graves and her brother Jamie who run wild with neighbor boy Caleb, their adult caretakers unreliable. When barnstormers pass through, Marian becomes obsessed with the idea of flying. Caleb cuts her hair so she can pass as a boy to earn money towards flying lessons by secret moonshine deliveries.

Barclay was a criminal, and he was rich, and he was used to getting what he wanted. And he wanted Marian from the first time he saw her as a girl. She entered into a dreadful bargain: he would pay for her flying lessons, and she understood the unspoken agreement that someday she would be his.

Trapped into an abusive and controlling marriage, Marian escapes, disappears into Alaska, reinventing herself as a bush pilot. When WWII broke out, she volunteers for the British Air Transport Auxiliary, ferrying warplanes. She meets Ruth, who becomes her great love, and Ruth's gay husband Eddie. But it is Caleb she still turns to when broken.

After the war with its many losses, Marian is offered financing to fund her dream of flying around the world, pole to pole, she only trusts Eddie to be her navigator. After Antarctica, they are believed to have been lost at sea.

Then there is Hadley, also an orphan and abused by her uncle, who became a beloved child actress, and has a breakdown at age 20. Now, she has a change to reinvent herself in a movie about Marian's life, based on the journal Marian left behind at Antarctica before she disappeared.

Hadley goes on a quest to learn about Marian, discovering the truth of what happened on that great circle trip from pole to pole.

Marian's story gives Hadley a sense of freedom and control. And, and it can free us, too, showing us how to live with courage even in the darkest of times. How we must know what we want, and to always work for our dreams.

This past year has been a horror show of death and fear of death, political clashes and unimaginable chaos, outbreaks of hate and violence. We know full well the disappointments and pain of this world.

A story can help us to heal. To know we are not alone, that there is a way to get through the hell and live into a moment of joy and moments of grace that can be enough to live on. This is the gift of literature.

I received a free ebook from the publisher through NetGalley. My review is fair and unbiased.

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